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The Germans’ Internet Paranoia

Having watched a few recent TV reports on German public television, I am once more baffled by the extreme webophobia the German population – underpinned by the media – is suffering from. “Super secure mega passwords”, “ultra cookie cleaning tools”, “there are hackers everywhere!”, “beware of Google search, Street View, Facebook, Twitter”, and for Pete’s sake, never ever give anyone your true shoe size, you might receive side bar offers for large Stilettos. How terrible!

This is counterproductive and doesn’t help a population embrace the world wide web and its opportunities, increased relevancy in advertisement and information channels. Programmes on German TV hardly ever offer sufficient clarifications about how harmless almost all of cookies are and that there are huge advantages – not just to the provider, but predominantly and increasingly to the users themselves – of knowing more about human behaviour in the digital context. Cookie driven studies can show, that a website’s information architecture is not intuitive and help the developer to improve the experience for the site visitors. Consumers who are keen to make a saving on a purchase or travel are able to get alerted for best deals. A rather old computer that cannot cope with streaming video, will not constantly be ask to download the latest Flash plugin, but instead automatically forwarded to alternative content.

German scholar Manfred Spitzer has just last week released a book called “Digital Dementia“, probably one of the most obscure, paranoid and regressive piece of one sided analysis of cross generational Internet behaviour. In it, hi points out the dangers (!) to young people of too much internet consumption and our responsibility to keep people away from this medium to rescue our brains and save us all from certain doom. If we consider that Johannes Gutenberg already had to fight similar angst ridden public propaganda in the 15th century when he invented the printing press and “exposed” the world to mass production of the written word; or that the first ever steam train journeys came with a warning that speeds of 40kph and more would most certainly cause brain damage, we can lean back, relax and give that TED talk about the value of digital education another run on YouTube.

My wish is that Germans would relax a bit, let Google do its thing, use Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest more, get educated proactively about the ins and outs of Web 3.0 – supported by unbiased media – and enjoy the digital space.